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The early hemi engines did their job as powerplants for luxury barges very well. As a matter of fact, Chrysler even made high performance versions for their 300 series automobiles begining in 1955 with the origional 300. In subsequent years the cars recived designations of 300B, 300C and so on up untill the 1959 model year when hemi engine production stopped. The hemi was replaced with the "wedge",a much cheaper engine to produce.
Drag racers had discovered the hemi and recognised its potential early on. The only problem was the engine was excessivley heavy (a Chrysler 392 weighs in at 792 lbs.). The old problem of poor to weight raised its ugly head once again. Racers found that by using alternative fuels they could bring the power levels up to a point that overcame any shortcomngs due to excessive weight. This fuel was nitromethane. Its a mixture of nitro and alcohol in varying ratios up to 98% that still power the top fuel dragsters of today. Another advantage of the hemi was its durability. Other engines were also treated to doses of nitro wih often times disaserous results. The Chrysler hemi proved to be such a rugged and depenable design that the top fuelers of today are powered by aftermarket copies of the origional design!
The "golden era" of fuelers was after the 1963 NHRA 'ban" on fuel. From 1957-1963 the NHRA made alternative fuels illegal, forcing the racers to run on gasoline. When lifted, the ban opened the door for widespread use of nitro. The early cars were all of the "slingshot" variety, placing the driver either between the rear wheels or behind them. This was a age of some simply beautiful dragsters by such people as Tony Nancy, Tommy Ivo, Ed Roth and others. Each car had its own unique character and style. One of the most beautiful dragsters ever was built and driven by "TV" Tommy Ivo.
One more class of racers were the gassers of the early '60's. Mostly comprised of Willys, Angilia's, Bantam's and Topolinio's, these coupes were chosen for thier light weight. They too were primarily powered by Chrysler hemi's running on gas. Quite a few intense rivalrys developed and the "Gasser wars" are legendary.